Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

Big Religion

Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

Big Religion

Article excerpt

THE SOURCE: "American Postwar 'Big Religion': Reconceptualizing 20th-Century American Religion Using Big Science as a Model" by Benjamin E. Zeller, in Church History, June 2011.

THE 20TH CENTURY SAW THE rise of the "bigs": big business, big government, and big science. Benjamin E. Zeller, a professor of religion at Breyard College, wants to add one more to the list: big religion.

Although no one has attached the "big" narrative to religion before, Zeller says that American religion since World War II has the same hallmarks as "big science"--heightened institutionalization and professionalization, increased entanglement with the government, a growth of popular support, and, of course, critics.

After the war, church membership jumped, growing from 90 million in 1950 to more than 114 million in 1960. The National Council of Churches (NCC) was established in 1950 (the same year as the National Science Foundation), bringing 25 Protestant denominations and four Eastern Orthodox patriarchies under one umbrella. What the NCC was to mainline and liberal American Christians, the Billy Graham Crusade was to evangelicals and conservatives. Though different in style and substance, the NCC and Graham's institution were both large, bureaucratic organizations swarming with administrative professionals.

A fundamental marker of big science is its relationship with the federal government, which feeds it billions of dollars in exchange for research on military, communication, and energy technologies. …

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